The State Department on Thursday dismissed accusations that it retaliated against one of the key witnesses at this week's Benghazi hearings by demoting him after he questioned the Obama administration's account of the terrorist attack.
Foreign Service officer Gregory N. Hicks, who was the No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Libya during the Benghazi terrorist attacks last September, told lawmakers at an explosive House hearing on Wednesday that he was chastised and "effectively demoted" after he questioned the decision to blame the military-style assault on a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islam video.
The State Department "has not and will not retaliate against Mr. Hicks," spokesman Patrick H. Ventrell said.
"As Mr. Hicks testified yesterday ... he has followed 'standard' employment processes," Mr. Ventrell added, quoting Mr. Hicks' testimony Wednesday.
During that testimony, Mr. Hicks said that his jaw "hit the floor" when, five days after the deadly assault, he heard U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice directly contradict the president of Libya by saying the attack appeared to have grown out of a demonstration against the video and that there was no evidence it might have been preplanned.
He called Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Beth Jones to ask her "why [Mrs. Rice] had said there was a demonstration when we had reported that there was an attack," he said.
Her "curt" reply made it "very clear that from the tone that I should not proceed" with any further questions, he said.
The following week, he traveled to the U.S. from Libya for the funeral of his slaughtered boss, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. While there, he received a "blistering critique of my management style" from Ms. Jones.
"She said that she didn't even understand why anyone in Tripoli would want me to come back," he told lawmakers of Ms. Jones.
As a result, and to have the chance to be reunited with his family, he chose to cut short his assignment in Libya — "curtailment" in State Department lingo.
But he then found himself in limbo, he told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Between my curtailment and my finding of this job that I have now, I had no meaningful employment," he said.
His current job designation represents a step down from the deputy chief of mission posting in Libya, he said.
"I've been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer," he said.
Mr. Ventrell noted that since foreign service assignments rotate on an annual cycle, employees who are curtailed need to find "an off-cycle assignment," which can be hard to obtain.
"Mr. Hicks still receives the same salary and he has the same employment status and rank as before," Mr. Ventrell said, adding that, "per standard procedure, Mr. Hicks recently submitted a preference list for his next assignment and is under consideration along with other foreign service employees."
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